Just a few weeks ago, when I began planning this site, I made a promise that I would always be honest with myself and my readers. So I feel compelled to preface this post with the confession that it holds a tinge of melancholy.
The day started out fine with the words of Mr. Rogers’ opening song ringing in my ears, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood!” I think that is the hidden gift of living in the Midwest on the verge of Springtime. In early March, when you are greeted by a 50 degree morning, and the weatherman says “the temperature is going to reach 60 plus degrees by midday,” there is definitely a visceral reason for rejoicing.
Shortly after waking, I received information detailing the funeral arrangements for a dear friend. Her name is Rita and she was 80 years old. She had been widowed 5 years and 2 months. Her final years were spent living with dementia. To many, it seemed that she was losing all the memories of her adult life. I believe otherwise.
Then, within hours, I discovered that Mike, a friend-of-40-years, passed away at age 64. He had been born a little more than a year before me. For 20 years he and his wife raised their five children in a house that we could see from our back patio. We were more than neighbors.
In a heartbeat, all my plans for today’s post took on a new meaning. I would be lying, if I said that I was still singing “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” My mood had suddenly turned dark and introspective. Poets and musicians have said it far better than I, this earthly life is fleeting. We are but “candles in the wind.”
It was time to go on a hunt for the beauty hidden at the heart of the sorrow. I took a long prayer walk, because experience has taught me that there is a deep well of comfort and wisdom bubbling in the silence. Most of the time, I am too busy and pre-occupied to hear its message, but when I venture into the stillness, there it is, awaiting me with open arms.
Today, as I gazed into that well, I saw reflected so many treasured golden memories of shared laughter and tears. Once again, I could see our children growing and playing in the sunshine. I could hear engines revving, and envisioned young men working on cars in the backyard and having a cold beer in the sweltering days of summer. In my mind’s eye, I watched those same children becoming adults, getting jobs, finding love, getting married, and having children of their own. My heart caressed anew each and every cross-stitched ornament enclosed in annual Christmas greetings. The gift of imagination allowed me to taste afresh the foods shared at many church dinners and the moments of spiritual union as we sang, “one Church, one faith, one baptism”.
The music of the morning, buried by grief, began to swell again. My soul tearfully whispered, “Open the eyes of my heart. Please, open the eyes of my heart!” The blessing of holy tears unlocked the cold chain of grief that had encircled my spirit. The sheer joy of life gently washed over me like waves sliding onto dry sand. The souls, of all those who have gone before me, reached out and walked beside me, not bound by space or time. They sang into my heart their passion for living. They imparted their memories of surviving, no…THRIVING, through many tumultuous years. The violence of Prohibition, the scarcity of the Great Depression, the sacrifices of World War II, the uncertainties of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the horrors of assassinations, the strain of several recessions, the agony of personal trials, and the threats of worldwide conflicts could not defeat them or stifle their song! They continued to strive and move forward with brave perseverance and love.
Though they may no longer be visible in this world, they continue to guide me toward a path which leads to a life of dignity, courage, faithfulness, hope, AND JOY! I shall miss their physical presence, but I have been greatly blessed to have shared so many exceptional days, weeks, months, and years with an entire choir of wise and loving people. It truly is a beautiful day in the neighborhood!